It’s hard to miss the fact that it’s the sales season in Singapore, especially when my friends from Myanmar and Thailand are bombarding my Facebook feed with their plans to visit the country for their annual shopping trip.
Not surprisingly, Mr Steven Goh, Executive Director of the Orchard Road Business Association is expecting to see more tourists from our regional neighbours visiting our highly touted shopping belt.
So I was no doubt puzzled when I came across a comment in The Straits Times from a reader pointing out the fact that “we can no longer boast of being Asia’s shopping paradise”.
I mean, Singapore has long been a prized entry market for luxury goods looking to foray into the region’s luxury market, which makes us not only very accessible to the majority of the international brands, but also a prime destination for the world’s richest people.
True, as far as choice and variety go, we could do much better; most of our malls are filled with row after row of the same shops, brands, and products that can be found anywhere else. If you shop at Ion, you’ll find the exact same shops just a few doors down at Wisma Atria, Ngee Ann City, etc. Looking for a LV bag? No problem! Looking for an Armani suit? You’ll find it in 10 minutes! Looking for a second-hand 1960s sofa or a rare Jimi Hendrix record? Um…sorry, no idea where you can get that…
Most fringe shoppers will either turn to small and obscure shops that specialists pass around through word of mouth. Facebook is still a great way to find out about pop-up shops, flea markets, blogshops, and other really specific sellers.
Those that are after a very hard to find product will have to turn to online retailers such as Amazon. And that’s where, in my opinion, Singapore is losing out. The Internet has opened up a back door access to global brands and products not available here, but many people still won’t or can’t make as many online purchases as in other parts of the world.
According to MasterCard’s worldwide survey on online shopping, more than one-third of respondents who did not make an online purchase in the three months preceding the survey cited security concerns as a barrier to making e-purchases.
Safety of transactions aside, one factor that holds me back is the lack of a complete shopping experience – from walking into a shop and getting to touch and try on the article before making a purchase. I can count on multiple occasions when I bought clothes online and they ended up looking vastly different on me than they did on the website’s model. And of course, it landed up in a corner of my wardrobe where it never saw daylight again.
That’s why the recent announcement by Amazon to offer free shopping to Singapore for orders above US$125, should push more people to trust e-transactions.
This is also a good way for new business owners, particularly the SMEs, to get their businesses up and running with minimal start-up costs. The Internet model offers a relatively low-cost entry into the market, especially for land and manpower-strapped Singapore where the prices of retail units and foreign labour represent a strong barrier for budding entrepreneurs.
In that sense, e-commerce is the perfect way to conduct business in a more affordable, accessible, and efficient way:
- Lower operational costs in terms of rent and manpower needed to upkeep the e-business are directly translated into lower prices for consumers and higher margins for business owners.
- Online customer service is increasingly based on real-time chat services to address customer queries, with some even using Twitter to connect with their customers!
- Retailers are no longer constrained by physical boundaries, which means they have a quicker access to global markets. This allows them to tap on a larger pool of customers, which is especially important for countries like Singapore where domestic consumption is limited by the small population.
No wonder we’ve seen a steady rise in e-commerce start-ups over the past years!
Time for me to get into the Great Singapore Sale festive and do some online shopping. :)